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Love, Love

Why is it that we love love? This isn’t necessarily a new trend to romanticize the idea of falling in love nor is it a cultural phenomenon.

We’ve always been infatuated with love throughout history. The passion. The scandal. The warmth. 

For example…  

As a child, I was introduced to the transformational power of love in Beauty and the Beast. In 1936, King Edward VIII abdicated from the English Monarch in order to marry the woman of his dreams. In 1813, the world was introduced to Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett’s tug-and-pull of a relationship in the novel Pride and Prejudice. In the early 12th Century, Lancelot betrayed his dear friend, King Arthur, to pursue a passionate romance with his wife, Guinevere, in Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart. And even farther than that, in the Bible, we have numerous of love stories such as Ruth and Boaz, Jacob and Rachel, the bride and groom from the Song of Songs, and, probably the most memorable, Adam and Eve. 

Love has always been loved, not simply by the dominant culture, but by humanity as a whole. 

Understanding that love is a timeless force that currents through all human beings will teach us about the character of God. Or, maybe more adeptly put, learning about the character of God will teach us more about love, Himself. 

John, one of Jesus’s closest friends and disciple, writes, “God is love.” [1]  

Wait, what? God is love. 

This is not mere theological poetry, but a transformative truth meant to remind humanity of its image. 

If we trust the book of Genesis, we immediately learn humanity was made in the image of God. The Imago Dei. We were created as his children. Sons and Daughters of the King, the Mighty Lover. And, with this intent in Creation, we are honored with the responsibility to care for the earth and cultivate community in intimacy. Our image is the very imprint of love because of the source of love. We were created to love. 

Love is embedded into the fabric of our DNA. 

Yet, when we think about love, do notions of God occupy our mind? Often times love is accompanied by illusive bytes of flirtation, concertos of heart-fluttering butterflies, and passionate fogged up windows. Don’t get me wrong, I have no qualms about romance or healthy sexual expression. One of the first commands God gives humanity is to have sex. And God doesn’t make mistakes, therefore the pleasure that comes from sex is, both, natural and good. It’s a gift. But let us not confuse the gift with the Gift-Giver. 

God is love. Love is not God. [2] – tweet this. 

As the Church, our job is not to worship an emotion and to elevate deed over deity. Romance will not comfort us when we lose a loved one to a fatal disease. Romance will not grow holiness from a sinful carcass. Romance will not personify itself to ransom a captive prisoner. What I really want to say is, our pursuit of romance may seem gloriously vain because it is short of our pursuit of Jesus. 

Jesus is love. 

But he is not love in the sense that we most commonly use the term. Often times when we converse with our community, we use this term love in ambiguous modes. The popular examples are: 

  1. I love pizza 

  2. I love my wife/husband. 

  3. I love quality time 

  4. I love the outdoors.

It becomes pretty clear that this term love, most commonly carrying a romantic sentiment, has been the mediator for any and all relationships we may describe.

Romantic love is not the destination in which our souls will find their satisfaction, for it is just one side of a multi-faceted diamond, Love himself. – (tweet this)

Love is the tethering Spirit that binds relationship. Love is carrying the burden of a dear friend. You can hear love in the laughter of community and in the tears of mourning. Love is available in the loneliness of singleness and in the everyday of marriage. 

Maybe love has been obscured by a negative experience. Maybe love and delight seem like antonyms with a tragic backstory. Maybe you are like me, wondering if you are considered to be worthy of love, insecure of your value and purpose, all the while love has only been issued to the privileged. Forgive me if this is all seems too theoretical or abstract, but, I believe, love is available to you right now. You were not created to be starved of intimacy.  

Maybe our pursuit of love has been wooing us to true intimacy. 

Here is my prayer for you:  

I pray you find Jesus in your definition of love. I pray that your relationships are not solely intent on building romance as much as they should be to cultivate community. I pray you find yourself worthy of love despite any harm you’ve experienced. I pray your delight and passion are found in Jesus. 

[1] 1 John 4:8[2] C.S. Lewis – Mere Christianity


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Nathaniel Arroyo is a poet, photographer, and coffee aficionado located in Spokane, Washington. Being from Chicago, IL, he has a passion for the Church’s engagement with culture through mediums of art, community, and rich theology. He attended Moody Bible Institute – Spokane and studied Biblical Exposition.

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Marriage Isn’t About Your Happiness

Did you ever think someone could show you love through a bologna sandwich?

I didn’t think so either.

Until I found out that my then-boyfriend-now-husband (a poor, broke, medical school student at the time) spent close to two months eating bologna sandwiches everyday, in order to cut down his grocery budget to $10/week – just so he could save up enough money to buy me an engagement ring.

The truth is this: marriage will cost you.

When you think of the cost of marriage, what comes to mind?

According to recent statistics, the average couple today spends $26,444 on a wedding. That’s a lot of money, but it’s nothing compared to the REAL cost of marriage. Because like it or not, marriage will cost you MORE. It will cost you something great. It will cost you a price much larger than the money you spend on a ring or a wedding or a honeymoon: it will cost you yourself.

I heard a married man on TV say (regarding whether or not he was going to stay in his own marriage), “I shouldn’t be with someone if I’m not happy…” and it made my stomach turn. 

What an accurate reflection of the self-centered society we live in, everyone believing that their main goal in life is THEIR OWN personal happiness. What a small and shallow way to live.

If you’re getting married with that as your main goal, to make yourself happy, you will be disappointed in a severe way.

Marriage is not about your happiness, it’s not even about you. It’s about LOVE – which is something we choose to give time and time again. It’s about sacrifice, serving, giving, forgiving, and then doing it all over again.

No wonder we choose divorce over commitment…because most of the time, we’re choosing “personal happiness” over real commitment….over real love.

They say marriage teaches you more about selflessness than you ever wanted to know. I have definitely found that phrase to be true in my relationship with my husband. Because at the heart of it, real love is all about sacrifice. About the giving of yourself, in ways big and small. That’s what marriage will cost you.

It’s about offering forgiveness when you’ve been hurt.

It’s about giving your time though it’s not always convenient.

It’s about sharing your heart when you’d rather hold back.

It’s about cleaning the kitchen after a long weekend, even if it’s your least favorite job.

It’s about choosing to respond with love when you’d rather respond in anger.

It’s about offering a listening ear, when you’d rather tune out or go to bed. 

It’s about putting someone else’s needs and desires before your own.

It’s about giving up that last bite of cake, just so your spouse can enjoy it.

It’s about laying down your rights, to make way for the rights of another.

The list could go on and on, but it always ends with the same formula:

WE > ME

That’s what marriage will cost you. 

We live in a world that DESPISES the sacrificial side of marriage…and tries to wish it away. They teach to strive for power, control, and the upper hand in a relationship. They tell us to do what feels right, and not to tolerate anything less. They fool us to thinking that love is about doing what makes us happy.

And the second we feel less than happy, they encourage us to bail….to abandon ship…and to stop investing.

But they’ve got it all wrong.

Because the more we give, the better we become.

Real love is not self-seeking…and it will ALWAYS cost you. More, and more, and more. It will cost your heart, your time, and your money. It will cost your comfort, your rights, and your pride. It will cost you to “lay down your life” for thelife of another. And only those who learn to die to themselves are the ones who get to experience the resurrection power that comes with it.

Resurrection into real love, into real life, and into meaningful relationships.

There is so much hope and so much healing available for marriages: but it starts with talking about the hard stuff. Because the more we know about marriage, the better we’ll do. That’s why I’m so excited about this new book, the seeds of which started from this little article! Whether you’re single, dating, engaged or married – you don’t have to be just another divorce statistic. Because the choices you make today, have a huge impact on the marriage you build for tomorrow.

Order Choosing Marriage TODAY. 

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A version of this post originally appeared on True Love Dates on April 2nd, 2018. Used by permission.

True Love Dates, is the book that world-renown #1 New York Times best-selling authors and relationship experts Drs. Les & Leslie Parrot have claimed to be exactly what “your love life needs”.

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Debra Fileta is a Professional Counselor, national speaker, relationship expert, and author of True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life, where she writes candidly about dating, relationships, and how to find true love. Her newest book, Choosing Marriage, is set to be released in May 2018! You may also recognize her voice from her 200+ articles at Relevant Magazine, Crosswalk.com, and all over the web! She’s the creator of this True Love Dates Blog, reaching over 4 million people with the message that healthy people make healthy relationships!  Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter or book a session with her today!

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How To Be “Friends With Benefits” (The Right Way)

Q: In your book, True Love Dates, you recommended a “season of friendship” before dating. If I am interested in a woman who I normally have very limited opportunity to interact with, how do I pursue her as a just a friend when it is quite obvious I am interested in more given how far out of my way I am going to spend time with her?

A: First of all, to you who asked this question: dude, you score some major brownie points for referencing my book!You would be the kind of guy that sits in the very front row of one of my seminars or lectures….so I already like you for that! And let me just take a moment here as an opportunity to shamelessly plug my book, True Love Dates, because to be honest, it was what got me blogging about relationships in the first place!! We owe this entire blog to that little book, because in it are all the foundational concepts that I believe give you the outline you need to engage in a killer dating relationship and in turn, an incredible marriage.

And people, you may not know this but due to the publishing contract I have with Zondervan, I am not allowed to publish more than 8% of the contents of my book on this blog. That means even those of you who have read EVERY SINGLE article on this blog are missing my most PROFOUND (ahem, yes, I said “profound”  – especially the seasons of a relationship concepts!) principles about dating!! So don’t be cheap and go purchase a copy for yourself….right now…seriously. It’s like one long dating therapy session. And who doesn’t need that?

Secondly, I love this question because it shows a guy with a genuine desire to do dating well. I love that. For those of you out there (especially the ladies I hear from) who email me whining and complaining that there are no more good men out there, let me just tell you right here and right now – that’s so NOT true. They are everywhere. I meet many of them right here on this blog. And maybe you will too. hint hint

Thirdly, apparently I’m in rambling mode this morning, so let’s go ahead and dig into this important question: how on earth can you be just friends with someone you’re totally interested in? I’ll be the first to admit that every relationship looks a little different, but for this question, I’m going to site my relationship with John, my hubby.

When John and I met back in 2005, we met at a conference up in Boston. I was living in Virginia at the time, so clearly, there had to be some sort of “interest” shown for us to even continue our friendship after that conference. So to make a long story short, he asked for my number to keep in touch, and then we actually kept in touch. The next 5 months of our “long-distance friendship” consisted of phone calls, visits, texts and emails.

If you keep up with my writing, you know full well that I’m a HUGE advocate of being friends first.

There are SO many benefits to the stage of friendship before dating.

 

And for those of you who are confused about the title of this article, I don’t mean the benefits of hooking up, making out, or getting physical. On the contrary, the BENEFITS of being friends first are that you get to know each other in a truly meaningful way before you commit to dating – with no strings attached. There are SO many things you can learn about a person during the time of friendship. (If you want to learn more about all that, check out this in-depth article from the TLD premium content library.)

We were both interested in each other, but we never actually discussed dating until we had known each other for a while, namely, like I mentioned, 5 months. So how did we grow our friendship during that time without crossing over into dating?

Here’s what we did:

We took advantage of community: Looking back, John and I spent around 75% of our time together in a group setting, with our friends and family. We had a lot of friends and family in common, so yes, that definitely made it a little easier – but even where we didn’t have friends in common, it gave us an opportunity to meet one another’s community.

That meant inviting him to my cousin’s huge “fantasy football” weekend, (even though for him that meant catching a flight – remember, we were long distance). That meant me going up to Boston to stay with a girl friend of mine and all of us spending the week doing group activities (which, of course, included him). That meant him visiting a friend in the area where I was living, and swinging by to grab dinner with my friends and I. All that to say, we spent a lot of time with a lot of people. And it really gave us a good glimpse into one another’s respective worlds. You can learn a lot about a person that way.

Friends with Benefits Don’t Get Physical:

 

When people think friends with benefits, the physical aspect is what usually comes to mind. But the greatest benefits actually come when you keep your physical interactions in check throughout the stage of friendship. If I’m totally honest, I remember a couple of times during our friendship stage, especially as my interest in him began to grow, where I genuinely wanted to grab his hand, or lean over and give him a big kiss. And now I know he felt the same way about me. So it’s not like the desires weren’t there, it’s just that we didn’t follow through on those desires. We each chose to control our desires and in doing so, we forged something deep – a genuine and authentic friendship. We didn’t want the temporary pleasure of physical connection to mess with us, because we still weren’t totally sure where our friendship was headed.

Friends With Benefits Are Careful with Conversation:

 

I have to give credit to John for this one. Most of the guys I interacted with in the past were extremely flirtatious with their words (ironically, their actions never followed suit). But our friendship stayed a genuine friendship partially because we kept our words in check and had emotional boundaries. We didn’t talk about the future, we didn’t use flirtatious lingo, we didn’t have any kind of romantic conversations, and we didn’t “define the relationship” right away (there’s a time and place for that conversation, but don’t rush it). We kept our conversations just as we would with any other friend: we asked questions, we got to know each other, we told funny stories, and we used our words to learn about one another. Words are powerful, so in any relationship, you have to use them wisely.

So at the end of the day, it’s absolutely possible to show be friends with benefits the right way – even with someone you are interested in. It just takes being deliberate and practicing self-control. Which is a GREAT quality to have upon entering a dating relationship…and even into marriage. At least, that’s what happened for us!


A version of this post originally appeared on True Love Dates on February 22, 2018. Used by permission.

True Love Dates, is the book that world-renown #1 New York Times best-selling authors and relationship experts Drs. Les & Leslie Parrot have claimed to be exactly what “your love life needs”.

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Debra Fileta is a Professional Counselor, national speaker, relationship expert, and author of True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life, where she writes candidly about dating, relationships, and how to find true love. Her newest book, Choosing Marriage, is set to be released in the Summer of 2018! You may also recognize her voice from her 200+ articles at Relevant Magazine, Crosswalk.com, and all over the web! She’s the creator of this True Love Dates Blog, reaching over 4 million people with the message that healthy people make healthy relationships!  Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter or book a session with her today!

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Some Thoughts For Those Single, Engaged, or Married

I feel like I should start this post with a slight apology.

You see, when I was single I absolutely hated getting advice on being single from married people. It was just the worst –as a happy married person they had no right giving me, an embittered single person, advice. Most of this hate was channeled into unpublished blog posts, because after reading them I realized they could never see the light of day. Thank god.

So yes, this post is a little advice for single people, but it’s also for people engaged or married (and me being married for five months means I can mostly provide advice on how not to write wedding gift thank-you notes, and that is to actually write all of them and not stop when there are ten left because your brain cannot handle anymore wedding-related activities).In fact, I wouldn’t even say this is advice. Rather, it’s some observations that I offer to you, whatever life stage you are in.

And to the married people I resented before for trying to tell me how to live my life, my bad. You were only trying to help because you were once there too, and it turns out that just because you’re married you don’t know everything either (which you also probably know).

So here are some thoughts, observations, and advice for those single, engaged, or married:

Marriage will not fix your problems. Instead, marriage will do two things: you will simply find yourself now with different, married-people problems, and hopefully your problems, both old and new, will feel a little more bearable because someone has your back forever.

Just because you are a Christian and this really nice person you are dating is a Christian doesn’t mean you have to get married to them. Seriously. This is a confusing one, I know.

Breaking up is not a sign of spiritual immaturity. In fact, it might be just the opposite.

Please stop feeling this pressure to get married immediately after becoming engaged. Being engaged is different than dating, and it’s different than being married. It’s unique, special, and refining. And it can (and should) reveal the realities of what you’re getting into with marriage – good and bad. Sit with those realities before marriage, together.

I fully reject the lie that sex is inevitable if you wait a long time to get married. You’d be surprised how resilient people are.

You are allowed to feel numerous ways about one thing, or person, or relationship.

Confidence is attractive and will probably get you a date or relationship, but if you’re in it for the long haul this person is eventually going to see all of your really ugly, unconfident bits.

It’s okay to be selective about who you take dating or marriage advice from. Everyone single person has had a different experience than you, somehow.

It’s also okay to be selective about which books you read about singleness or marriage. Or, stop reading them altogether. Sometimes all that advice can be really overwhelming.

Some reasons I’ve broken up with people, for reference:

He couldn’t support my boundaries.

He couldn’t communicate with me about faith or Jesus or spirituality.

He had trouble understanding me.

His presence made me feel like a different, untrue version of myself.

He didn’t pursue me – he made me pursue him.

He couldn’t figure out how he felt about me.

He made me feel like I made no difference in his life.

He wasn’t kind.

He made me believe me being with him was the answer to his problems.

And some reasons I started dating my husband, for reference:

He was steady.

He made me feel special, important, and cared for.

He actually took me on dates, and made it clear they were dates.

I wasn’t the answer to his problems.

He was kind.

He was really funny.

He was gentle to me in touch, respect, and speech.

He was super cute.

He was honest with me about really, really hard things.

He took initiative to learn things, learn me, and better himself.

He wanted a relationship with God more than he wanted a relationship with me.

I loved being around him.

He was super fun.

He wanted to wait for sex.

He didn’t make me feel like I needed to earn his love or attention, which I’m still baffled by to this day that someone can love me like this, especially when I have a dramatic mid-life crisis about once a month.

I don’t really know if God tells us to marry a certain person, but I do know that there is no such thing as one destined, perfect person for us all.

Even for us married people, it will never not be obnoxious when people excessively post sappy things about their spouse.

The first few months of marriage have only been hard when one of us has been selfish. Period. Other than that, marriage is pretty spectacular and I think we need to stop telling people that the first year of marriage is always so scary and tough.

If you’re single and need to unfollow people on social media whose lives appear to throw your singleness into sharp, painful perspective, unfollow them. Do it. Do it now. Take care of your heart.

It’s funny, because in the end advice or thoughts or observations from others only resonate so much in our own lives. I have found that one of the most incredible and frustrating things about love is that no matter how much you “know” it will probably not be enough, and you will have to learn for yourself and through your own actions and choices how to do all this well (or at least try your best).

But I think that’s what’s going on with this blog when it all comes down to it – it’s all just offerings. Offerings for both myself and for you. I really like that.

– XO


Julia writes about relationships, faith and identity at hellosoulblog.com.

 

  • Photography by Kat Skye Photography
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Sex Trafficking, Sexual Integrity, and the Super Bowl

The Super Bowl,  the single greatest reason to spend just over $80 on food that probably will only leave you with heartburn. This might be especially true of whichever fan base sees their team lose on Sunday.

But did you know the Super Bowl is often sighted as the single largest sex trafficking incident in the United States?

As more people become aware of this reality over recent years, many individuals and organizations have stepped up to raise awareness and stop this travesty from continuing to occur.

Groups like Fight the New Drug, A21, and Saving Innocence are organizations dedicated to ending sex trafficking (among other issues) through education and program initiatives. These are powerful change-makers made up of people who are united for a similar cause.

But even still, I ask what more can I do as one individual.

When I first began speaking on issues surrounding sex, sexuality and relationship, I never thought I would also be talking as much as I do about pornography, sex trafficking and dating violence. While these issues have always been a reality, they remained (and still often do) on the peripheral of most people’s consciousness.

Today these issues are part of every conversation I have on sexual integrity.

To not speak about pornography, sex trafficking and dating violence is to commit an injustice and disservice. Individuals and communities are in desperate need of education regarding these issues because in order to live with sexual integrity we must make a choice to look beyond ourselves. Our decisions, sexual or otherwise, impact others.

And this might be the hardest part.

The stain of sex trafficking that we see at the Super Bowl is on each of us when we fail to speak up or take action on a personal level about this situation. Yes, living with sexual integrity benefits our individual lives, but it also impacts the wellbeing of others and sets a precedent of moral integrity we demonstrate to an often immoral world.

For me this has meant looking deep within myself and admitting I am sexually broken. There have been times in my life I have not lived with sexual integrity, and this includes viewing pornography. As difficult as it is to admit, I too have contributed to the demand for sex trafficking that porngraphy fuels.

But that is not where the story needs to end.

Here are three things I’ve worked to do in my life that I believe contribute to a better society and less demand for this horrible reality.

Realize pornography aids in the creation and demand for sex trafficking.

The link between porn and sex trafficking is well documented. However, many people are still blind or unconvinced of this reality, believing instead that pornography is not harmful and sex trafficking is a separate issue.

Not so. Countless women have been kidnapped, abused, drugged, threatened and coerced into doing porn. This is sex trafficking. And it’s happening in the very cities we call home.  

Stop looking at pornography!

The impact pornography has on an individual, their brain, their relationships, and the community where they live is also well documented. Pornography is linked to higher rates of divorce, abuse in relationships, unrealistic sexual expectations,decreased energy, and the objectification of other people.  Pornography offers nothing healthy or helpful for our relationships.

The first step to breaking free from the grip of porn is to repent and confess this reality. The only way I ever stopped looking at porn was to understand its impact and abhor its influence. It was only then that I was eager to apologize and make amends. This requires a deeper look at yourself and how this sin impacts not only you.

Finally, I needed to have a clear plan of action for how this was going to stop. Those with the highest success rates of defeating a pornography habit have a clear plan on how they are going to do it. Find a friend or  trusted adult and begin laying out a plan for how porn will no longer have an impact on your life.

Encourage better dialogue around sex and sexuality

Pornography is not the only way sex trafficking is fueled. We can’t forget the demand goes beyond the computer screen. As we inch closer to kickoff at this year’s Super Bowl we need to remember there are individuals who will be trafficked around the city of Minneapolis.

The only way this part of the demand will change is through proactive dialogue that ultimately compels people to make better decisions regarding their own sexual wellbeing and the wellbeing of others.  We live in a time where our sexual appetites have almost no bounds.

Whether we need to change our own lives or change the way the world thinks about sex, this change begins within ourselves. Our actions and dialogue regarding these topics will ultimately lead to a shift not only in our perspective but the perspective of others, working to combat the ways a twisted idea of sex plays out in out culture.


 

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Jason Soucinek is the Executive Director and founder of Project Six19. Dedicated to talking honestly about matters of sex, sexuality and relationships. Jason has spent more than a decade engaging audiences of all ages and backgrounds. He is an internationally recognized seminar and conference speaker and published writer on issues surrounding sexuality and youth culture. He can be heard on the CPYU podcast “Youth Culture Matters”

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A Theology Of Masturbation: Tackling One Of The Tough Questions

Yes, we want our kids to ask questions about God’s good gift of sex, gender, and sexuality. We might not be well-prepared to answer their questions, but as many parents have said to me, “It’s easier for my kids to bring up the questions rather than me!” But there’s one question that always seems to generate a period of hemming and hawing that can go on and on and on. That’s the question of masturbation.

Let’s be honest here. . . my informal surveys of an entire older generation of boys reveals they either a) indulged in auto-eroticism without borders or boundaries (“Ninety-five percent of all teenage boys say they masturbate. . . and the other five percent are liars!” . . . remember that?), b) never discussed the issue with their parents beyond hearing a one-sided “Don’t do it!”, or c) lived their lives in fear and trembling believing that they were going to go blind by the age of 19.

In today’s hyper-sexualized culture, the questions are rarely even being asked. And when a young person (or an old person) seeking to develop a healthy God-honoring approach to His good gift of sex and sexuality starts to ask questions about masturbation, most adults either go blank or have no idea how to answer. I’m fully aware that in the world of theology, and specifically youth ministry, there are a variety of perspectives on how to best answer the question.

Like all questions about sex, sexuality, and gender, this is a question that can only be answered in the context of the story in which we choose to live. If we choose to live in the cultural narrative, it’s not even a question. But for those who have been called into the biblical narrative, we need to listen diligently to that story as we faithfully ponder what God’s answer is. . . even if we don’t feel like His answer is the easiest one to accept and enlist.

Yesterday, I spotted a post on “Solo Sex and the Christian” from my friend David White at Harvest USA. I’ve spent years trying to think through the best way to hear the Scriptures speak and how to communicate those answers to the kids (and adults) I encounter who ask. David’s article is, without a doubt, the most thoughtful practical theology of masturbation I’ve ever seen. It is worth a few minutes of your time. . . and perhaps you will find it as helpful as I do.

We are all sexual strugglers at some level. . . all of us. Here’s what David writes about the struggle with masturbation. . .

One of the frequently asked questions at a Harvest USA seminar is whether masturbation is a sin. There has been a lot of debate on this issue in Christian circles, largely because it’s a behavior without a condemning, biblical proof text. Although I can’t point you to a specific chapter and verse forbidding this behavior, God’s design for sexuality makes it clear that there is no room for masturbation in the life of a Christian.

As I’ve written elsewhere, there is theological significance to our sexuality. Two things are crucial to have at the forefront when considering solo sex. First, in the Bible sexual activity is always reserved for marriage. It is designed to be inherently relational, a deep knowing of and intimacy with another. Second, the goal of sex is selfless service, the pleasuring of another. This latter point is particularly clear from 1 Corinthians 7:1-5, the only “how to” passage in the Bible prescribing sexual activity.

God designed sexuality to be like every other aspect of the Christian life: a turning away from selfish desires to honor God with my body and use it to serve others. Sex in Christian marriage should reflect the New Testament’s ethic in general. Describing discipleship, Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). This is much more than a proof text for the atonement; it is the culmination of Jesus’ teaching on what it means to be his disciple.

As a solitary activity, masturbation is not rooted in relationship with another. There is no opportunity for deepening intimacy and knowing of another. Further, far from selfless service, masturbation is a picture of incarnate selfishness. To engage in this behavior is to say. . . (to keep reading, click here).

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Research Says These Four Factors Contribute To a Lasting Marriage

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a formula to predicting marriage longevity?

You meet someone great, you date for a while, and then you start to think about getting married. So you whip out your checklist and see if everything adds up. Yes, you conclude, we can take the plunge because there’s no risk in us getting divorced. Weddings bells, ring out!

Unfortunately, there is no magic formula to predict whether or not a marriage will last.

In her book The Good News About Marriage (2014), author and researcher Shaunti Feldhahn not only displaces cultural myths about the divorce rate (which is closer to 31% than 50% for all marriages) but describes the factors, both emotional and social, that impact the risk of a couple’s divorce.

And in her years of research, Shaunti found that among those factors there are four main lifestyle and demographic choices that can impact your marriage’s longevity (even lowering a couple’s risk of divorce to 5 to 10 percent!):

1. Age of first marriage

Couples who choose to marry in their mid-twenties or later have a higher chance of making it to their 20th anniversary than couples who marry in their late teens or early twenties.

Marrying young has often been cited as a contributing factor for marriage dissolution, as those who marry before their late twenties or early thirties can sometimes lack the personal insight, financial stability, and understanding of the commitment of marriage simply based on limited life experience.

2. Both individuals have a college education

Feldhahn cites the work of marriage researcher Andrew Cherlin who found that college education alone drops the divorce rate to one in six marriages for the first decade after the wedding, and The National Center for Health Statistics found that women who earned a bachelor’s degree had a 78% chance of their marriage lasting at least 20 years, compared to women who have a high school education or less (40% chance).

While there appears to be no concrete reason as to why this occurs, most researchers agree college-educated couples are more likely to marry later in life and be more financially secure than their less educated counterparts, thereby setting themselves up for a more stable marriage.

3. Choosing not to live together before getting married

Well-known sociologist Dr. Scott Stanley has spent years through the University of Denver researching the impact of cohabitation prior to marriage. He calls this the Sliding vs. Deciding phenomenon. Cohabitating couples are more likely to slide into long-term commitments, including marriage, unlike non-cohabitating couples who are better suited to make a decision to marry free of lifestyle restraints. Cohabitating couples often find themselves sliding from one relationship stage to the next because they are linked through a living situation and possibly finances, even if they would not have necessarily made the decision to marry their partner if they were not living together.

 

You can read more about Sliding vs. Deciding on Dr. Stanley’s website by clicking here.

4. Regularly attending religious services together

Possibly one of the most intriguing areas of study Feldhahn cites is the impact church attendance has on the chances of a couple remaining married.

In a study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, three sociologists studied three thousand first marriages over a period of five years and found that marriages in which both spouses share the same faith and regularly attend services together have 35 to 50 percent lower odds of divorcing than even same-faith couples who do not regularly attend services together.

In fact, those who attend church lower their chance of divorce by 25 to 50 percent compared to those who do not identify as religious or attend services. All that to say, regular church attendance alone has a huge impact on the health of a couple’s relationship. Feldhahn also found that activities like praying together or being part of a faith-based community results in increased levels of marital happiness. Isn’t that amazing?

Now, don’t panic if you are married (or not) and don’t fall into one or more of these categories (for example, my parents married at 20 and 21, didn’t go to college, and have been happily married for 38 years!). There is no one factor that contributes to whether or not a couple will divorce. However, when it comes to certain lifestyle choices you have control over, these four factors have been proven to contribute to a long-lasting, happy union.

 

What do you think? Do you agree with this research?


Julia writes about relationships, faith and identity at hellosoulblog.com. 

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Does The Bible Really Prohibit Sex Before Marriage?

God loves sex. The first two commands recorded in the Bible are “have dominion over creation,” and then “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:26-28). In other words, rule the world and have lots of sex. Not a bad day at the office.

Whoever said God was some cosmic killjoy? God created sex and declared it to be “good.”

Within Christian circles, it’s assumed God only wants us to have sex if we’re married. Sex outside of marriage is one of the clearest, unquestionable prohibitions in Christianity. But where does the Bible teach this? Can you name a verse?

Many will race to the Ten Commandments: “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). But adultery means having sex with someone else’s spouse; it doesn’t refer to an unmarried couple sleeping together. Likewise, when Jesus condemns lust in Matthew 5, He does so in the context of adultery. In other words, we should not sexually desire another person’s spouse as our own.

God loves sex. But He’s designed us to have sex within the boundaries of a marriage covenant.

Others might turn to Leviticus 18. This “sex chapter” lists all sorts of sexual prohibitions including incest, bestiality, adultery and other sexual sins. It’s fascinating, though, that nowhere in Leviticus 18 is sex before marriage condemned.

Some might argue that when the Bible condemns “fornication” or “sexual immorality” this includes sex before marriage. And maybe it does. But this needs to be shown and not just assumed. Again, the Old Testament’s most detailed list of sexually immoral acts (Leviticus 18) does not include sex before marriage.

So Does the Bible Really Say It’s Wrong?

Before you book a hotel room and call up your girlfriend with the good news, please keep reading! Yes, the Bible does say that all forms of sex outside of marriage are wrong. Here’s how.

The early chapters of Genesis give a basic blueprint for marriage, and even though it never says “Thou shall not have sex before marriage,” it certainly suggests that sex outside of marriage flows against God’s design. God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1) is joyfully heeded by Adam and Eve after they are joined in marriage (Genesis 2:24-25; 4:1, 25). The same goes for their descendants. Noah, Shem, Abram and others all have sex and therefore have children within the confines of a marriage covenant.

When they turn to other women, such as Abraham’s sexual relations with Hagar (Genesis 16), the act was not considered an affair. Hagar was more like a modern day surrogate mother who bears a child in the place of an infertile wife. Nevertheless, these acts don’t appear to be sanctioned by God, even though they were widely accepted in Israel’s culture.

Throughout the Old Testament, it’s assumed that God designed sex for marriage. Deuteronomy condemns a soon to be wife who has had sex before marriage (Deuteronomy 22:13-19), and the love poetry contained in the Song of Songs delights in the joys of sex but reserves it for a husband and wife. Extra-marital sex is never looked upon with divine approval in the Old Testament, no matter how bright the love-flame burns.

The Role of Tradition

The Jewish tradition that flows from the Old Testament and cradles the New Testament was even more explicit in condemning pre-marital sex. For instance, it was believed that Joseph (Jacob’s favorite son) was adamant that he and his future wife, Asenath, remain pure until their wedding day. There’s nothing in the Old Testament that validates such concern; Joseph’s marriage to Asenath is only mentioned in passing (Genesis 41:45, 50-52). But the later retelling of Joseph and Asenath reflects a widespread Jewish view: Sex before marriage is sin.

And this is the ethical world that Jesus and His followers were raised in. Jews and Christians had many disagreements about what constitutes right and wrong (food laws, circumcision, strict Sabbath keeping, etc.). But when it came to sexual immorality, they found much in common. Sex before marriage was clearly condemned in Judaism, and the same goes for Christianity.

For instance, Paul—a Jew—argued that the only proper outlet for sexual desire is within marriage: “because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2). Again, if unmarried people can’t control their sexual desires, Paul doesn’t tell them to head to the brothel, or to their boyfriend, or their betrothed loved one. Rather, “they should marry” since “it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:9). In other words, we should not satisfy our sexual passion with someone other than a spouse.

Not Just Adultery

Paul says in another passage: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5).

Paul’s words here can’t be limited to adultery. They clearly include all forms of sex outside of marriage. We know this because the Gentiles of the Roman world Paul refers to actually abhorred adultery and considered it a crime. However, sexual activity outside of marriage was perfectly fine—as long as it wasn’t with another man’s wife. So when Paul tells Christians to not engage in “the passion of lust like the Gentiles,” this can’t be limited to adultery. What separates Christians from other Romans was that Christians, like their Jewish brothers, believed that sex outside of marriage was sin.

Many other passages in the New Testament confirm what we see in the letters of Paul. Revelation 14:4 assumes that unmarried Christian men who desire to be faithful are not having sex. Matthew 1:18-19 celebrates the chastity of Joseph and Mary. And Hebrews 13:4 considers sex outside of marriage to be immoral: “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” This verse can’t just be limited to adultery, since both “sexually immoral” and “adulterous” are listed.

God loves sex. But He’s designed us to have sex within the boundaries of a marriage covenant. To violate God’s design in an effort to lay hold of creation’s pleasure is not just foolish, but actually rejects the delights God wants us to enjoy. Sex outside of marriage mocks the Creator’s will and elevates human desire over God’s wisdom.

Christians can mess up and receive God’s free pardon. God’s scandalous grace covers all of our wrongdoings, and He dishes out such grace liberally. But it’s one thing to struggle and fail, and quite another to call sin good and wrongdoing righteousness. Christians—genuine Christians—must strive to live in line with the Creator’s intentions and celebrate the good gifts He gives to His people.

I originally published this blog as an article for Relevant Magazine 


A version of this post originally appeared on Preston’s Blog on September 15, 2016. Used by permission.

Preston

Dr. Preston Sprinkle has authored several books, including the New York Times bestselling Erasing Hell (with Francis Chan; 2011), Fight; A Christian Case for Nonviolence (David C. Cook, 2013), Paul and Judaism Revisited (IVP, 2013),  Charis: God’s Scandalous Grace for Us (David C. Cook, 2014), and the recently released People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue (Zondervan, 2015), and the newest Grace//Truth 1.0: Five Conversations Every Thoughtful Christian Should Have About Faith, Sexuality & Gender (2017). Dr. Sprinkle also hosts a daily radio program titled: “Theology in the Raw?” and frequently speaks at various venues including college chapels, churches, music festivals, youth camps, family camps, and anywhere else where people desire to hear relevant Bible teaching. Preston has been married to Chrissy for 15 years and together they have 4 children.

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Sex And The iWorld

Sex and the iWorld by Dale Kuehne is one of our favorites here at the Sexual Integrity Initiative, and when author Preston Sprinkle wrote an insightful summary on his blog, we thought we’d share it with you!

 

I just finished Dale Kuehne’s book Sex and the iWorld: Rethinking Relationships Beyond an Age of Individualism and it was a fantastic and compelling read. Dr. Kuhne (Ph.D. Georgetown University) is a professor of Ethics, Economics, and the Common Good at St. Anselm college and has been a pastor for the Evangelical Covenant Church of America. I’ve known about Kuehne’s work for about a year now and recently enjoyed a very friendly conversation with him over Skype. I learned so many things about culture, ethics, and sexuality from Kuehne’s book—too many things to reveal in this blog. I want to keep this review to a single post, so let me jump right in and summarize the book and highlight a few key take aways.

 

Summary

 

Kuehne (pronounced “Keen”) examines three different types of societies, which he labels the tWorld (t = traditional), iWorld (i = individual), and rWorld (r = relational). Specifically, he looks at how these three different worlds understand sexuality, along with related topics like anthropology, identity, relationships, and morality as a whole. In short:

 

  • The tWorld views sexual morality in traditional terms. Its primary founders were Plato, Aristotle, and the early church fathers. Sex belongs within the context of marriage between a man and women for the purpose of procreation and strengthening the marital bond between two partners. Most relations in the tWorld are given not selected—you are born into a relational matrix of family, community, and even though marriage is a choice, it becomes a relationship of obligation once you commit to it. “Hence in the tWorld the key to relational fulfillment was not to find the people with whom we most wished to relate, but to love and engage with those we had been given” (p. 37).

 

  • The iWorld represents the world we now live in (esp. in the West). Friedrich Nitzsche and the influence of the sexual revolution are the primary founders. “The iWorld makes individual freedom its non-negotiable value” (p. 67). “Freedom of individual choice…is the highest ideal of the iWorld” (p. 72). The iWorld “is predicated on the foundational belief that the expansion of individual rights will leader to increased happiness and fulfillment (p. 67). The only guidelines—Kuehne calls them “taboos”—are: (1) “One may not criticize someone else’s life choices or behaviors,” (2) “One may not behave in a manner that coerces or causes harm to others,” and (3) “one may not engage in a sexual relationship with someone without his or her consent” (p. 71 and throughout).

 

  • The rWorld is shaped by a Christian worldview and believes that intimacy and love are found in relationships—both relationships of choice and in relationships of obligation—regardless of whether these relationships are sexual. “The abundant life is a product of having an intimate love relationship with God and others, and sex has very little to do with it” (p. 161). In the rWorld, sex is a significant component of a marriage relationship, but a marriage relationship isn’t essential for human flourishing. The rWorld believes that “the sexual revolution” and the iWorld has “become so focused on finding happiness in sexuality and sensual or sensory experience that” it has missed “the love and intimacy for which our soul craves” (p. 163). “Unfettered sexual freedom can inhibit our ability to cultivate and enjoy love and intimacy” (p. 163). “In the rWorld, life is not spent searching for people to make us happy but is instead spent cultivating the relationships we already have” (p. 180).

 

Kuehne makes clear that the tWorld is not the same as the rWorld, even though there is some overlap. While the tWorld has many good things about it, it also devalued women, cultivated patriarchal marriages, and fostered societal systems of inequality. While Kuehne is very critical of the iWorld, he does admit some progress it has brought to society including equality among people and healthy tolerance for diverse cultures to exist together.

 

However, the rWorld is the best path for human flourishing and yet it stands diametrically opposed to theiWorld. “The aims of the two worlds are mutually exclusive” (p. 203). You cannot turn individual humans loose and expect this to produce a society where humans will mutually flourish.

 

Highlights

 

There were so many thoughtful points made throughout the book—way too many to highlight. Here are two of the most salient ones that gave my highlighter a run for its money.

 

Sex and Human Flourishing

 

As stated above, even though the ethics of the iWorld assumes that sex and sexual fulfillment is essential to human flourishing, Kuehne argues that this is simply untrue. We’ve been conditioned to think and feel this way; the propaganda of our hypersexualized age is overwhelming and it would be the pinnacle of ignorance to think that human desires are unaffected by our cultural narrative. Like a fish that doesn’t know what “wet” feels like, we swim through a sea of sexual propaganda unaware of how profoundly our cultural narrative shapes our desires. (This, of course, was a major point in Jonathan Grant’s book Divine Sex.) The iWorld is telling us that a person who’s not having sex is not a fulfilled person.

 

As this reasoning goes, if sex is an essential aspect of human fulfillment, then if Christians, or anyone else, are missing out on sex, and if God wishes us to have the most fulfilling life possible, then that which stands in the way of this fulfillment—divorce, remarriage, or cohabitation—must not be wrong after all. (p. 160).

 

We’ve actually lost sight of ancient wisdom. “The notion that sex was an essential part of human happiness was not in the consciousness of people in that time and place. Sex was considered to be a drive, an appetite, and a necessary means of procreation” (p. 162). But sex wasn’t seen as essential to intimate relationships or human flourishing. Sex is an important aspect of marriage. It “will sometimes produce children” and “provide a bond for the marriage that is useful in holding a married couple together. But sex in itself will not be the catalyst for happiness or fulfillment because that is not its innate purpose” (p. 162). Therefore, the hypersexualizing of our culture actually prevents us from finding and experiencing true, lasting, love and intimacy.

Unfortunately, the evangelical church has bought into the cultural narrative unknowingly. “Contrary to some contemporary popular evangelical theology, the two great commandments are not to get married and have sex” (p. 162). The idolatry of marriage (and therefore sex) in evangelicalism is actually hindering human flourishing, especially for those who are made to feel like unfulfilled second class citizens in God’s kingdom because they aren’t married.

 

Discovering our True Identity

 

The second salient point of Kuehne’s book is scattered throughout but comes to fruition in the final chapter. It has to do with discovering our true identity. Kuehne argues that the iWorld has wrongly searched for human identity by looking within ourselves rather than outside ourselves. Instead of asking the question, “Who are we” the iWorld asks the question “Who am I” and gives the individual the keys to discovering who they are by looking within. “Self-discovery and authenticity, not birth and nature, become the new source of human identity” (p. 209). Instead of seeing human identity as “something we derive from a common nature”—we are humans created in God’s image and designed to live according to His will—we view it as “an individual’s quest for self-understanding” where “people are encouraged to look within to find their true self and live lives that authentically reflect who they discover themselves to be” (p. 209).

 

This is where the iWorld and rWorld fundamentally disagree.

 

The iWorld sees the formation of self-understanding as primarily an individualistic enterprise…The rWorld, however, believes that we come to know who we are only by first coming to know our true human nature through relating with god and other persons. Then we can make sense of our individual characteristics (p. 212).

 

After the individual comes to discover who they are by looking within, morality is dictated by living out who they really are. But this confuses the “is” and the “ought.” Even if you can discover who you are by looking within, this doesn’t in itself sanction the morality of living according to who you are, as David Hume used to say “You cannot derive an ought from an is!” (p. 160). Even if we rely on science to tell us who we are—common in the sexuality and gender debates—“Science can tell us what is, but it cannot tell us how we ought to act” (p. 52).

Conclusion

 

One of the most helpful points made in the book is that we are still living in a transition between the tWorld and iWorld (p. 45, cf. 207, 213-14). That is, even from a purely, secular perspective, no one knows whether the iWorld’s promises of human flourishing are empirically true. Does sexual freedom lead to societal flourishing? Does letting individuals discover and determine their own identity and morality lead to human flourishing? Do biblical guidelines about sexuality and gender hinder human flourishing or promote it? Does the iWorld’s expanded definition of marriage lead to greater societal flourishing or does it lead to more long-term harmful effects on families, children, and society as a whole? Should sex be separated from marriage and procreation? Does consensual divorce enhance human happiness?

 

Empirically, we cannot answer any of these questions yet, because we haven’t lived in the iWorld’s way of doing things long enough. All the iWorld offer at this point is some individuals who say “it works for me” or “I’m happy” or “I’m flourishing.” But it cannot say we are flourishing. And since the iWorld doesn’t possess a moral code outside the individual, it has no way to measure whether its way of living is actually good for the human community. Not yet, at least. We have to wait several generations to see if the iWorld’s way of doing things will lead to greater, lasting happiness among humans.

 

So far, the trajectory is not looking so good. If you look at where things are going—depression and suicide rates, loneliness and anxiety, addictions, sexual dysfunctions, children born out of wedlock, lack of sexual and relational fulfillment, the global destruction of pornography—things aren’t faring too well for the iWorld’s ability to deliver what it’s promised, even by its own standards.

 

Perhaps the Christian vision for human flourishing might be on to something.

 


A version of this post originally appeared on Preston’s Blog on December 16, 2016. Used by permission.

Preston

Dr. Preston Sprinkle has authored several books, including the New York Times bestselling Erasing Hell (with Francis Chan; 2011), Fight; A Christian Case for Nonviolence (David C. Cook, 2013), Paul and Judaism Revisited (IVP, 2013),  Charis: God’s Scandalous Grace for Us (David C. Cook, 2014), and the recently released People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue (Zondervan, 2015), and the newest Grace//Truth 1.0: Five Conversations Every Thoughtful Christian Should Have About Faith, Sexuality & Gender (2017). Dr. Sprinkle also hosts a daily radio program titled: “Theology in the Raw?” and frequently speaks at various venues including college chapels, churches, music festivals, youth camps, family camps, and anywhere else where people desire to hear relevant Bible teaching. Preston has been married to Chrissy for 15 years and together they have 4 children.

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There’s No Such Thing As Finding The “Perfect Person”

Far too many singles are out there trying to find their perfect match.

Because let’s be honest…it’s far more romantic to dream of finding that person who will complete your life, rather than to imagine a relationship that involves time, energy, and investment. But good relationships will always require work.

No one wants to hear that marriage takes work.

In fact, there have been numerous articles trending encouraging us to STOP SAYING that relationships take work. Because it’s discouraging. And scary. And defeating to hear.

But to stop saying that a good marriage takes work, would be to live in a delusion. That’s like saying becoming a doctor, or a teacher, or an Olympian doesn’t require any work. Anything of value takes time, energy, and investment. It requires work. I believe that the goal of this type of conversation isn’t to SCARE people away from marriage, but to PREPARE them for what it entails.

A good marriage isn’t about finding the perfect person, it’s about working to create the best relationship you possibly can.

And the process of creating something beautiful, will always take work. Ask any artist. Ask any writer. Ask any musician.

That’s why, when, in a Hollywood culture that tends to portray relationships as over-the-top romantic gestures and passionate one night stands, it was refreshing to see this article floating around by US Magazine where Dax Shepard confessed that marriage takes work. Here’s what he told US Weekly:

“We don’t believe in The One. We don’t believe in the fairytale. We don’t believe that you can meet someone and you have a perfectly matching personalities. We are opposites and it has taken a tremendous amount of work and therapy for us to coexist.”

I’m thankful for this much-needed reality check about relationships, from a couple that’s adored by so many young fans. Because a good marriage takes work. And anyone who tells you otherwise is living a lie.

I’m not saying that marriage is always hard. And I’m not even saying that the work is always hard.

Because so many times, the work of marriage – communication, connection, intimacy – is delightful. But to discount the fact that there is also hard work involved, would be to present a one-sided picture.

To say that marriage doesn’t take work is like saying running a marathon is easy. Who on earth would ever be naive enough to say that? To run a marathon well, you’ve got to do the work. You’ve got to train, to sweat, and to run with discipline – whether you feel like it or not. There might be days when the practice is easy on a beautiful sunny day with a perfect breeze. But there are going to be other days when you don’t feel like running, or training, or practicing. And that’s when the work of running a marathon has to really kick in. That’s when you decide how bad you want this thing, and choose to do the work to get to the goal.

You can only get to the win by doing the work.

Marriage is much the same. To do marriage well, you’ve got to do the work. You’ve got to communicate, connect, give, forgive, and sacrifice with discipline – whether you feel like it or not. There will be easy days, when the practice is easy and your love is shining bright. But there will also be other days, when you don’t feel like loving, connecting, and forgiving – or even feel like you’ve got nothing left to give. But that’s when the work of marriage really kicks in. That’s when you decide how bad you want this thing, and choose to do the work to get to the goal.

You can only get to the win by doing the work.

And much to people’s surprise, just because you are a Christian, doesn’t mean you’re automatically going to be good at marriage. You have to work at it just like anyone else. “Happily Ever After” is a path you have to forge, not a road you accidentally stumble upon.

As Dax later went on to say, “[Relationships] are labor intensive. If you want them to last they are labor intensive.”

So many times marriage is good work.

And often, marriage is hard work.

But if you’re expecting anything less than work, than you might not be ready for marriage. And I won’t apologize saying that.


A version of this post originally appeared on True Love Dates on December 19, 2017. Used by permission.

True Love Dates, is the book that world-renown #1 New York Times best-selling authors and relationship experts Drs. Les & Leslie Parrot have claimed to be exactly what “your love life needs”.

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Debra Fileta is a Professional Counselor, national speaker, relationship expert, and author of True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life, where she writes candidly about dating, relationships, and how to find true love. Her newest book, Choosing Marriage, is set to be released in the Summer of 2018! You may also recognize her voice from her 200+ articles at Relevant Magazine, Crosswalk.com, and all over the web! She’s the creator of this True Love Dates Blog, reaching over 4 million people with the message that healthy people make healthy relationships!  Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter or book a session with her today!

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The Not-So-Obvious Reason People Hate Sexual Restraint

I think I’ve figured out why people hate the idea of sexual restraint.

There’s of course the obvious reason: it’s real difficult to practice sexual restraint. It doesn’t sound fun, easy, or like anything that’s going to make you a member of the cool kid’s club.

But I think there’s a deeper reason our culture hates the idea of sexual restraint: We reject anything that appears to curb our personal freedom and by extension our self-fulfillment.

In 2017, we now live in a time where the height of self-actualization is dependent on our ability to live into our personal freedoms. This could be the freedom to pack up and be a nomad, freedom to practice any religion, freedom from a 9 to 5 job, the freedom to have sex with whomever we want and even the freedom to choose our own gender.

It’s the same foundational reason people reject Christianity; Christianity, with its instructions not to live into any and every whim and impulse, appears to be a religion clinging to a God who is both angrily conservative and a killjoy, one who wants to slowly eliminate the parts of ourselves that offend him; namely, the personal freedoms people believe they have a right to.

Sex is a point of special contention in the quest for fulfillment through absolute freedom.

One doesn’t need to look far to be inundated with the cultural belief that having sex whenever, however and with whomever is an act one is entitled to, a fundamental right that represents personal fulfillment through sexual identity and practice. Sex, and how we practice it and with whom, has become a facet of who we assert ourselves to be in our western culture. To ask someone to not have sex is not only perceived as unfair but as a violation of one’s very identity.

It does seem unfair sometimes, I know. But people perceive sexual restraint as unjust only when they do not understand how sexual restraint was divinely designed to impact our life.

I come from a generation that grew up in the nineties and were formed through messages about “purity” and kissing dating goodbye. The message of waiting my peers and I grew up with was one of straight-laced behavior modification and deeply conservative messages about modesty, sex, intimacy and dating, rather than an understanding of God’s big picture for sex.

As a result, we rebelled. Chastity was a prison – sex on our terms represented liberation.

What my generation now fails to see is that the restraint God commands of us, both in regards to sex and other areas of our life, is actually designed to give us freedom. If God is asking us to deny ourselves sex outside of a marriage relationship, it is because he has a grander design for our freedom: emotional freedom, spiritual freedom and freedom from the things that ultimately work against us and others.

God gives us boundaries in order to give us freedom.

For example, the ten commandments aren’t a list of rules simply for the sake of being rules – they represent certain boundaries to place on our lives because these boundaries keep us whole, healthy and free from sometimes disastrous consequences.

Think about it: ultimate freedom can actually have hugely detrimental effects on us, especially when it comes to sex.

If my conviction regarding sex is that freedom is my right, it won’t be long before I see just how detrimental absolute freedom can be. Freedom to sleep with whoever I want, whenever I want, can lead to emotional baggage, lowered self-esteem, emotional confusion, hurt feelings, etc. (and hey, maybe it won’t lead to these things – but it certainly opens the door to them).

It can also lead to physical baggage like STD’s or STI’s, which in turn lead to even more emotional hardship. There’s a lot there. Complete sexual freedom puts us at a higher risk of not only hurting ourselves, but hurting others as well. Sexual freedom impacts our self-identity and both our current and future relationships.

But the freedom God seeks to give us in sex are relationships and self-identities that are not defined by sex and everything that can come with it. By choosing to practice sexual restraint, we invite into our lives a whole host of freedoms:

The freedom to cultivate a relationship that is truly based on knowing one another and not clouded by sexual intimacy.

The freedom from shame.

The freedom to not worry about STD’s, STI’s or pregnancy.

The freedom in marriage from comparison (if both partners have practiced waiting).

The spiritual freedom that is cultivated in our minds and hearts when our actions are aligned with God’s desire for us.

God’s boundaries for us do not limit our self-identity – rather, they allow us to find our true identity (and freedom) in Christ.

Freedom is the divine purpose behind sexual self-restraint.

Julia writes about relationships, faith and identity at hellosoulblog.com.

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The Best Age To Get Married

I once heard about a wedding that was performed for a man and woman in their 90’s.  With a combined age of 193, they had been dating — uh sorry, “courting”– for 18 years before deciding to tie the knot. That’s a seriously long time to plan a wedding!

On the other hand of the spectrum, a couple years ago when Duck Dynasty’s John Luke announced his engagement just around his 19th birthday, it caused a ripple effect of opinions all across the internet. 

When it comes to getting married and taking that life-long step of commitment before God, what’s the right age?

Everyone seems to have an opinion about the best age to get married.  We can all admit that there are obvious extremes like the situations above. But on a less extreme note there are a lot of articles going around with thoughts and ideas on what age you should or shouldn’t be before you decide to say “I do”.  While some are adamant that getting married young is the way to go, others make the case for getting married when you’re older and wiser.

From taming sexual desires, to establishing financial stability, to simply just needing to “grow up”, the reasons presented for when a person should get married are causing a lot of discussion and even some controversy in this hot button topic.

I’ve  been asked by numerous publications to address my personal opinion on topic of the “best age to get married”. But so far-I have kinda kept my thoughts to myself.  I think part of the problem with this entire discussion is that most of us speak based on our own experiences, assuming that what worked for us will work for others.  But life’s just not that cut and dry all the time–is it?

So, I’ve put some thought into this, and I want to add to this conversation by saying that the perfect age to get married:

Has nothing to do with the years you’ve lived, and everything to do with how you’ve lived them. Call me crazy, but I don’t think you can quantify a person’s preparedness for marriage simply based on how many years they’ve been alive.

As a professional counselor, I have worked with thousands of individuals and couples, and one pattern that has emerged is simply this: life can look a whole lot different from one person to the next.  I’ve seen 18 year olds with the maturity and wisdom of 50 year olds, and I’ve met 40 year olds who are still stuck in the emotional IQ of a the teen years.  Granted, our health and maturity in life may be given more time to develop the older we get–but I think it’s less about age and more about what we do with the time we’ve been given.

Being ready for love means that we’ve taken the time to look inward– focusing on where we come from, who we are, and where we’re going, even while standing alone.  Here’s a detailed post I wrote about what it means to get yourself ready for love (and then take the free “Are You Ready for Love” quiz that goes along with it!)

Secondly, the perfect age to get married has little to do with your plans, and so much more to do with God’s plans.  Try presenting the “case to get married young” to a 48 year old who has never had the opportunity to say ‘I do’.  Life isn’t always that simple. Sometimes, the plans we have for our life are shattered into a billion pieces as days, months, and years move us away from our personal time frames, goals and agendas.

Life happens, and while we may WANT to get married young, or even not get married at all, sometimes, our personal plans don’t line up with God’s plans.  

If you’re truly seeking God and living out His story for your life, I would venture to say that the perfect age to get married is exactly the age that you are when you get married.  I look back at all the times in my life when God’s plans trumped mine and I am so thankful that they did.  He knew better than me about so many things. And had I known what He knew…I would have totally agreed with Him.

As Christians, I think we need to be really careful with the formulas and anecdotes that we offer people in the pursuit of the marriage because the truth is, God has never been One to conform to our cookie-cutter answers.  He tends to crush the norms, and shatter all our expectations, and I’m so glad He does–because our worlds can be so small when left to ourselves.  At the end of the day, God’s word calls us to one thing and one thing alone: to love others, and to love ourselves, and to love Him above all else.

The most successful marriages I’ve seen have so little to do with age and so much to do with the evidence of God’s incredible power at work in their lives.  And thankfully, that’s something you can never put a number on.


A version of this post originally appeared on True Love Dates on September 12, 2017. Used by permission.

True Love Dates, is the book that world-renown #1 New York Times best-selling authors and relationship experts Drs. Les & Leslie Parrot have claimed to be exactly what “your love life needs”.

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Debra Fileta is a Professional Counselor, national speaker, relationship expert, and author of True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life, where she writes candidly about dating, relationships, and how to find true love. Her newest book, Choosing Marriage, is set to be released in the Summer of 2018! You may also recognize her voice from her 200+ articles at Relevant Magazine, Crosswalk.com, and all over the web! She’s the creator of this True Love Dates Blog, reaching over 4 million people with the message that healthy people make healthy relationships!  Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter or book a session with her today!

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Matt Lauer, Teachable Moments, and Theologizing About Sexuality and Sin

Trending. . . Matt Lauer. . . at number one on my news feed. As of this morning, one of the voices that’s been sharing the growing cascade of #metoo stories over the last few weeks is now the subject of those stories himself. I watched as visibly rattled co-workers Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb explained Lauer’s absence on this morning’s Today Show.

How did you react when you heard the story? What thoughts went through your mind?

At times like this, I’ve learned that it might actually be a wiser move to focus on my own thoughts/reaction than on the story and its subject. And I’m not at all proud of the fact that the learning curve on this skill took much more time for me than it should have. And, I’m still tempted to default to focus on guys like Matt Lauer than on myself. That’s a blatant confession.

Upon seeing the news pop up in my feed this morning, I experienced a bit of jolt. Matt Lauer??? Come on. But that jolt very quickly morphed into the thought of “sad but not surprised” . . . a consequence of years and years of watching culture, pondering the reality of human depravity, and looking more deeply into my own broken and messed-up heart. This isn’t the last one of these stories we’re going to hear. . . not at all.

What is that you do with news like this? I think that there’s great value in self-evaluating how each of us evaluates and responds to these kinds of stories. In other words, before getting on with the rest of our day, it’s a good thing to theologize about, to learn from, and to think about how to process these stories with our own selves and with the kids we know and love.

I’ve been working on doing that this morning. In fact, I’ve put other tasks aside for the simple reason that my mind’s been racing. Here are some of my initial, typically-incomplete, and hopefully-helpful thoughts. . .

First, if your initial reaction is a smug, self-assured, disapproving finger wag in the direction of Matt Lauer and others like him. . . well, that’s quite telling. I’m ashamed to admit that in years past I was more prone to head immediately down this Pharisaical avenue than I am now. . . I hope. It’s easy to default into self-righteous finger-wagging when the subject of the story is someone who doesn’t share your views on faith and life, and who is one who sometimes pushes back hard on your views of faith and life. Let’s be honest here. . . if you’re a person of Christian faith you are tempted and even beyond tempted to rejoice in the downfall of folks who think, believe, and behave differently. But when that happens, we really aren’t thinking, believing, and behaving differently. Our actions prove that. Nor are we bringing honor and glory to the One who saved us when we had absolutely no hope at all of saving ourselves.

Second, if you politicize this and other stories like it, then you are making a horrible, horrible mistake. The reality is that this isn’t a political issue. It’s a human nature issue. It’s not an issue for either just conservatives or liberals. It’s evidence of a universal struggle. Sexual brokenness, temptation, and sin in thought, word, and deed is no respecter of persons, faith commitments, or political views. Whenever someone uses the issue as political or ideological ammo. . . no matter who they are. . . well shame on them. And shame on me if I cave into that temptation.

Third, this is a time to remember this rock-solid truth: “There but for the grace of God go I.” While my own human depravity should never be used as an excuse to write-off or justify the sin of others (or God-forbid, my own sin), I must also never forget that if I’m honest with myself, “there but for the grace of God go I.” And while I must reckon with the ever-present enemy of my own depravity and the one who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour,” I must always “stay alert” and watching out for this enemy who would love nothing more than to take me down. And, we all need to be reminded that even he might not be successful in taking us down through sexual sin, any self-righteous gloating over the fact is an indicator that he is very sneaky in other ways. . . like taking us down through pride.

And finally, today’s story and others like it offer us great opportunities to teach our kids in ways that will equip them for a sober-minded life which makes them continually aware of the enemy within. It was timely that even before seeing the story on Matt Lauer this morning, I prayed these words from today’s entry in Scotty Smith’s Everyday Prayers book: “Protect us from the evil one, and rescue us from ourselves.”

One good sin never deserves another. That’s why we need to spend so much time looking inward at ourselves. Today’s story is not one that should teach us about Matt Lauer. Why? Because in so many ways Matt Lauer is each one of us. Because of that, this is an opportunity to learn even more about ourselves and to teach our kids the increasingly-forgotten skill of doing the same.

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Looking For Sexual Clarity

In just a few more than 50 years, our media culture has gone from treating matters of sexuality as a hush-hush topic (your grandparents remember a time when you couldn’t even say the word “pregnant” on TV!) to putting all kinds of sexual practices and issues center-stage. That certainly has been the case in the past few months as a variety of high profile stories regarding (among others things) sexual assault, molestation, abuse and gender reassignment have filled everything from the news to reality TV.

I’ve been working hard to think more about the issues than the personalities involved. I’ve been trying to frame these stories in the bigger picture of our sexuality, God’s sex story, and the sexual stories our culture is communicating to us all. A recent walk through 2 Samuel took me to chapter 11 and the gut-wrenching story of David and Bathsheeba. After reading, I jotted some thoughts I found helpful to me, and which I hope are helpful to others (parents and youth workers)  as we engage in discussions with kids about all matters sexual.

First, we cannot deny or forget that sexual desire and curiosity is a good thing that we should expect to exist in all humanity. God is the Sexual Gift Giver, and we are the recipients of this good and wonderful gift. Sadly, the church has failed miserably to communicate this reality. Failing to see how our sexuality was made by God right at the start, woven in and through us, and given to us as a gift for our flourishing…well…we not only fail to communicate good theology, but our silence and uneasiness with things sexual communicates a horribly flawed theology of our sexuality, which leaves young and old alike scrambling to figure out how to understand and live out these powerful drives and desires. Our silence communicates that sex and sexuality is shameful. Could this be why Christian fundamentalism is a hotbed for sexual sin? While the church sometimes erroneously tells God’s story void of sexuality, the culture is guilty of telling a sexual story void of its rightful place in God’s story. We all struggle to get it right, but get it right we must.

 Second, all people are horribly broken. Our sexuality is broken, too. Yes, we need a robust and realistic theology of sin. When we understand human depravity, we will not be surprised by revelations of sexual sin. Perhaps more important, a robust and realistic theology of sin should leave us looking inward with great fear and trembling. “Know yourself” is a mantra I tell myself all the time. What I should know more than anything else are my points of weakness. As I tell youth workers all the time, “You are just one bad decision away from being a headline.” As sinners ourselves, we must be sure to help our kids see their default sexual setting is to rebel against God’s good plan for sex and do the wrong thing.

Third, we are responsible for developing self-discipline, including in our sexuality. Peter issued this warning in 1 Peter 5:8: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” I don’t know about you, but I easily can downplay and forget the unseen battle that rages all around and inside all of us. Mistake. Have you ever read the first three chapters of Genesis? Why is redemption necessary? Why is our world so broken? Know yourself. Know your default settings. Know your unique issues and temptations. Know your triggers. Don’t go where you can’t go. Seek accountability and help. If someone you know comes to you and says you have a problem and need help—listen.

Finally, in a do-anything and hypersexualized world, we will do anything and everything as we allow our lives to revolve around the idol of sexuality. Honestly, I’m surprised we’re not hearing more stories such as this. I believe that in time and in the very near future, we will be hearing more and more stories as a generation of kids nurtured by a boundary-less and border-less ambient sexuality comes of age. Sadly, many of the stories will involve victims and perpetrators who haven’t yet come of age. That’s called age-compression. As I always say, “Culture is the soup that our kids swim and marinate in 24/7.” If that’s the case, we shouldn’t be surprised at how they are flavored. Is it possible that we might be moving from a world where that which is secret sin becomes an open celebration? Then there’s the schizophrenic mixed messages our culture sends to our developmentally vulnerable and easily influenced kids, things such as, “Go ahead and look at this!” but, “Don’t you ever do this!” This is where so much of the difficulty arises. Right is still right, and wrong is still wrong. People ultimately are responsible for themselves and should be held accountable for their decisions and actions. I’m not sure we can stand and point accusing fingers without any blame at all when we’ve been part of the horribly flawed nurturing process through commission or omission.

 Our culture is talking about sexuality. We need to do the same. In doing so, we must redeem this horribly misunderstood and misused good gift of God!
All this said, I want to issue an invitation to my youth worker friends who want to think and strategize in deep and meaningful ways on the topic of biblical sexuality. This January 15-18, Duffy Robbins and I will be gathering a select group of 25 people on the beautiful campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, for a Symposium on Youth Ministry where we will be hunkering down to strategize together on the topic of “Traditional Biblical Sexuality in a Changing Youth Culture.” Here’s the descriptor we wrote for our upcoming days together: As debates about human sexuality dominate classrooms, coffee shops, and social media, youth ministers committed to a traditional Biblical ethic may struggle to find their voice. Some may wonder if there is a safe space in which to form a theologically informed and nuanced approach to these charged and complex issues. Join Dr. Walt Mueller of the Center for Parent Youth Understanding and Dr. Duffy Robbins of Eastern University for an intensive multi-day symposium to deepen your own Biblical and theological foundations, to broaden your apologetic for affirming the goodness of expressing sexual intimacy within the bonds of marriage between a man and a woman, and to strengthen your pastoral skills in helping youth live out these truths. This Symposium presumes participants’ affirmation of a historic, orthodox Christian sexual ethic and will be building from this premise, not debating it. Participation is limited to 25 to allow for deep exploration of these issues and will require some preparatory work and active involvement in the Symposium.
If you are interested in learning more and to register, click here.
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Spacey, Moore, Louis C.K., Weinstein, Etc.

Something hit me last Wednesday night when I was speaking to a group of parents, grandparents, and youth workers in the Philly area. I was presenting some of our No Parent Left Behind material and we were in the midst of talking about teenage physical development. We focus on the changes in the body, and the emerging God-given gift of sexuality. I was contrasting the cultural message on sex and sexuality with the biblical message on sex and sexuality.

I put up a photo I’ve been showing since 2005. That’s the year that MTV launched their “It’s Your Sex Life” online sex ed campaign. I downloaded the pdf educational booklet. . . It’s Your (Sex) Life: Your Guide to Safe & Responsible Sex. . . and read it. While the book didn’t promote anything that would have been labeled as “criminal behavior,” it would endorse beliefs and behaviors that land way outside the freedom-giving borders and boundaries set by the One who created sex and sexuality. . . then declared it “good!” When I show the cover of the booklet, I mention the booklet’s main thesis statement. . . “Fundamentally, it’s your body and it’s up to you what you do with it.”

Back then, I remember speculating out loud to folks about the fruit this notion would bear. It wasn’t rocket science. It was just common sense. Preach that “it’s up to you” message in a world of hypersexualized imagery, a world that has lost its moral compass, and a world that sees expressive individualism as virtuous, and you have cultivated soil that is fertile ground for all kinds of sexual aggression. Let’s be honest, if you grew up in the 60’s and 70’s the pressure was already there. The children of the 80’s and 90’s swam in even more of this stuff. And for the kids growing up in the 21st century. . . well, use some common sense.

So. . . here’s what hit me last Wednesday night when I look at that slide I’ve been using for 12 years: What you’re seeing as the adult behaviors (alleged and admitted) of guys like Spacey, Moore, Louis C.K., and Weinstein. . . well, there might be a day when the number of aggressors will be greater, the depth of the aggression more perverse, and the pushback far less or even non-existent. Is it possible that this kind of stuff might even be seen as neutral or even virtuous? Quite possible. Quite possible. Will it be in ten years? Five years? Less?

Youth worker and parents. . . are you tracking with what’s happening in the news and how that reflects what’s happening and been happening in the culture? If not, you’re missing it. What you’re also missing is the call to address this stuff from the time kids leave the womb for the simple reason that from the time they leave the womb the culture iscatechizing them on the purpose and place for sex.

The non-stop news cycle on this has given us a golden opportunity for discussion. Take it. . . and run with it. The only way to shift the spirit of the times is to come at it with the truth on sex and sexuality. I need to hear it. You need to hear it. And, our kids need to hear it.

If you want to learn more, visit our Sexual Integrity Initiative.

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Me Too, Sexual Aggression, And Harvey Weinstein

Late last week I scrolled through a list of two-dozen-plus actresses who were opening up and telling their stories of sexual harassment and assault perpetrated by Harvey Weinstein. Careful reading of their stories wasn’t necessary to lead one to conclude that if the allegations are true, this guy has engaged in some deplorable behavior. . . habitually. To be honest, it’s frightening. It’s likely that in the case of Weinstein victims, we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg.

As of today, it seems that as soon as the lid popped off the full barrel of Weinstein stories, the floodgates opened up for other victims to step forward to tell their stories and begin, we hope, to start the long and difficult process of dealing with the trauma of sexual brokenness and victimization at the hands of sexual predators. You can’t be present on social media today without coming across the #metoo hashtag way, way, way too many times. While the numbers and the stories are discouraging, opening the door to tell the story is the first step towards healing. This stuff wreaks havoc on individuals, families, and entire institutions.

What are we to make of all of this? Here are some non-exhaustive initial thoughts to consider. . .

First, we’ve got a major problem. We live in a hypersexualized world. I don’t think it’s at all a stretch to say that we are reaping what we’ve sown. Sure, sexual brokenness has been present in humanity since Genesis 3:6. Like everything else we have, we are, and we do, our sexuality fell apart at the fall. And, rather than seeking sexual flourishing and Shalom in ways that bring glory to God, we’ve conjured up a culture where anything and everything sexual is encouraged and even permitted. So rather than creating a culture that discourages sexual harassment and assault, we’ve got ourselves a world of our own making where kids who were taught to grow up doing anything and everything, are now adults who are doing anything and everything. Why can’t we connect the dots and start by ceasing to feed these attitudes and behaviors with better perspective and teaching on the front end of the life cycle?

Second, we must realize that hypocrisy is universal to humanity. Many of my Christian friends are pointing out. . . correctly, I might add. . . that the very media machine that propagates the belief in complete sexual freedom without borders and boundaries, is now decrying a kind of sexuality that victimizes as a result of no borders and boundaries. That’s caused me to consider the criticism this group has consistently thrown at Christians. . . that is, that Christians talk a good game that really doesn’t connect with the walk. Maybe we should realize that hypocrisy is a universal malady, with nobody consistently walking their talk.

Third, those of us who live and work on the landscape of youth ministry need to recognize that the problem exists in our world as well. On just one day last week, my Google news feed offered up three stories related to the keyword “youth” where members of our own tribe had been either arrested or convicted for doing the kind of stuff accusers have pinned in Weinstein. Wake up people. It’s everywhere. If you find yourself leaning towards this sort of thing, step out now! And, if you know someone in youth ministry or anyone else in the church who is involved in this, inhale immediately and then blow the whistle as loud as you can.

Fourth, we’re now facing the difficult work of walking people through their trauma. So many have lived for so long in the prison of their silence, with each passing day being one more day of being locked-up yet hoping for escape. Now that the lid’s been blown off for so many, the church needs to get its hands dirty. . . pastors, counselors, youth workers, friends. Our collective responsibility is to listen, love, care, and get them to the help they need. This is not a crisis or movement that can fall on deaf ears. One of the leaders we lean on to help us respond in the right way is Dr. Diane Langberg. She’s done extensive work on sexual abuse and trauma. Her book, Suffering and the Heart of God, and this podcast interview with her on suffering, trauma, and abuse are good starting points that we must all tap into.

Finally, we need to pray for clarity and discernment. This may sound a bit harsh, but as the wave of #metoo posts grows, we can be sure that there will be those who want to get caught up in the frenzy, get some attention, and make some social media noise. . . even though this isn’t their story. In other words, mixed in with the many, many legitimate admissions and cries for help will be those that are stated falsely, based on a desire to simply get some attention. That said, don’t take a #metoo too lightly, but always be on the look out for those that are false accusations designed to give the accuser a platform, a sympathetic audience, and a place to fit in.

To learn more about the dynamics of sexual abuse, power, and healing, listen to this first-person story with Denise Gater.

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Porn Makes You Numb

You’ve been there.

We all have.

Regardless of which addiction has taken you as its prisoner, you’ve experienced the numbing agent it provides. My pastor in Chicago once said that if there is one thing which unites all of humanity, it’s addiction.

In the words of Saint Peter (and Bob Dylan), we are all slaves to something. We are all the proverbial dog returning to his vomit. Eventually you become used to the flavor because at least your stomach is being filled with something.

I wrote in the past about porn as the quiet anesthesia. I still think it’s one of my truest blogs to date. We tend to look at all the blatant effects of a pornography addiction, like the marriages it ruins and the relationships it alienates; we look at how it fuels global sex traffickingor creates highly unrealistic expectations for how a human should look. But we overlook one of the most basic and common effects of pornography:

Desensitization.

I was once on a spontaneous date in California with a beautiful woman which ended up going well. Very well.

She and I took off from In-N-Out through the serpentine mountainous road near the small town and found a field from which to stargaze in the crisp spring night. It was nearing midnight and the clouds only let us see half the stars in the sky.

In other words, it was a really, really beautiful date.

We were lying on the ’emergency blanket’ I keep in my trunk for such situations, when she rolled onto her elbows, looked at me and told me she wanted to kiss me.

And she did.

And I remember the thought running through my mind as it happened: I feel like I should be feeling more than this. I feel like I should be more present. More blown away by this moment.

Earlier today I was talking with a college friend on the phone. He recounted times he had held his girlfriend as she wept, but he was removed. Detached. Emotionless. He said he felt nothing watching the woman he loved weep about what weighed on her heart. He was physically holding her, but he was somewhere else.

As he described the moment, he laid the blame for this removal from reality directly at the feet of pornography.

As men (and women I’m sure), we are robbed from much of the ability to feel feelings when we struggle with an addiction. It removes us from ourselves. One writer describes this as ‘the man who walks beside himself.’

We are experiencing our lives from somewhere outside, rather than from within, from our center.

The more I learn about feelings, the more I realize how many of us are uncomfortable with our feelings. As I’ve said before, I went nearly a decade without crying once. The more I grow, the more emotional of a man I become. And I think this is akin to becoming more in line with how God intended us to be: He did not create us to be binary robots with no emotions or impassioned reactions to our lives. The God of the Bible is one who is adamantly alive to His emotions, the entire spectrum.

We are quick to run to the lighter emotions of laughter and happiness, but anything that dives beneath the surface of weight or reality we are quick to wash away.

If your girlfriend leaves you and the pain is too much to bear, are you going to patiently sit in that feeling, or try to quell it with your vice of choice? For an addict, the choice is obvious, even if we don’t want it to be.

The problem with using substances (pornography, alcohol or otherwise) to escape the painful feelings is that, yes, they make the lows less low, but they also make the highs less high.

They rob us of the ability to deeply take in the power of beauty.

They may take the tears away, but how often are those tears necessary to experience life well? What kind of son wants to sit in his mother’s funeral with dry eyes? What kind of Christian wants to hear a powerful representation of the gospel and be unmoved?

Being fully human means being fully awake to our emotions, not distanced from them. God never intended to give us shortcuts when we grieve a loss or feel rejected. Nor did He want us to pacify the beautiful feelings of falling in love or watching your son take his first steps.

But pornography robs us of these beautiful moments by removing us from the present moment. It takes us to a place where pain and rejection don’t exist, but neither does beauty or intimacy.

Yesterday my church was performing baptisms and I was asked to share a few words beforehand. I stood up and, strange as it may sound, talked about a personal hero of mine, Nabeel Qureshi. I had just found out the day before that Qureshi had finally died after battling cancer at the young age of 34. He left behind a wife and daughter, but he is now reunited with another daughter they had lost to a miscarriage, and most importantly, with his savior Jesus Christ.

I had followed Nabeel’s videos the past year as his face and hair grew thinner and he became emaciated from his treatment. His last video update was an announcement that he was being moved to palliative care in order to make him more comfortable until he slipped away. Even now a lump rises in my throat.

As I spoke before my church and recounted the story of the brother we lost, a similar lump rose. My eyes filled with tears and I had to stop talking.

“Yesterday, our family lost a member…”

Silence filled the room.

“…but……but today we celebrate new members coming into it.”

I then entered the water with one of my middle schoolers and we baptized him. The beauty of the action is unspeakable. Even now. Something sacred happens as we observe certain family members moving on while new ones are ushered in.

And you know what? That moment choking up in front of my church was not bad. It did not make me feel like less of a man, nor was it painful, in the negative sense. It was a beautiful moment which I was able to experience in the presence of my community and my God, and if there is one thing the enemy wants to take from us, it’s that.

It is these moments of intense beauty which get stolen from us the more we numb ourselves with pornography. The enemy doesn’t want us to feel. I think he would be much happier if he could rob us of our ability to feel and worship God with a healthy and full emotional life.

But may we be like Christ, whose rich and vibrant emotional life should teach all of us to feel things to the fullest without taking shortcuts and numbing the pain. May we suffer well and rejoice well. May we grieve deeply and laugh loudly. May we loose the chains which keep our emotions subdued and drugged in the dungeons of our souls.

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A version of this article appeared on Ethan’s Blog on September 18th, 2017.


 

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I’m Ethan & I love Jesus as much as my little heart allows. I’m an artist, traveler, and the Lord often speaks to me in poems. I’m a personal trainer, youth pastor and photographer. I graduated from Moody and now live in Colorado. Come check out my blog at www.ethanrenoe.com.

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11 Signs You Need A Break From Social Media

There’s no denying that social media has a powerful role in our lives and personal relationships. It helps us stay connected, spread information, and share our stories with one another in a really unique way.

But isn’t it safe to say that many times – instead of adding to our lives, it begins to take over?  I know that there are times in my life that I’m guilty of this. Even as I write this post, I am increasingly aware that my life is slowly creeping back in that direction.

It’s easy to get to a place where we want to post about the moments of life more than we actually savor those moments.

Maybe you’re aware of this tendency in your own life.  If so, consider the following signs that maybe it’s time for a social media break:

11.  You’ve actually said the word “hash-tag” out loud in a conversation.

10.  You’ve started formulating your thoughts in the form of a Status Update or Tweet.

9.  The majority of your socializing during the week requires the use of an electronic screen.

8.  The first thing you do when you wake up–or the last thing before you fall asleep — is check social media.

7.  You have been known to interrupt conversations with real life people or stop an actual social interaction to post a photo, tweet a quote, or update a status.

6.  The first urge you get in a moment of down-time is the urge to “check” the Social Media happenings.

5.  You’ve been known to peek at your phone while driving–just to see what’s going on.

4.  You go on with the intention of a quick look- but it quickly turns into an hour or more and devours your time.

3.  The main reason you know what is going on in your friend’s lives is because you’ve read about it- not talked about it.

2.  You find your emotions and self-esteem are either elated, or depressed- based on your experience online.

1.  Your online life is starting to have a negative impact on your real-life relationships.

If you find yourself caught up in one or more of the above list- than maybe it’s time to step back for a while and take a break.  While that might mean unplugging for an evening, a day, a weekend, or even longer–more than simply unplugging from social media- it’s a deeper call to plug back into real life.

It’s important to make sure that we are using social media as a way to enhance our lives- rather than allowing it to become life itself.

*If you liked this article this, check out: Social Pornography: Social Media vs. Real Life, and 3 Ways Social Media Can Impact Real-Life Relationships.

A version of this post originally appeared on True Love Dates on August 31, 2017. Used by permission.


 

True Love Dates, is the book that world-renown #1 New York Times best-selling authors and relationship experts Drs. Les & Leslie Parrot have claimed to be exactly what “your love life needs”.

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Debra Fileta is a Professional Counselor, national speaker, relationship expert, and author of True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life, where she writes candidly about dating, relationships, and how to find true love. Her newest book, Choosing Marriage, is set to be released in the Summer of 2018! You may also recognize her voice from her 200+ articles at Relevant Magazine, Crosswalk.com, and all over the web! She’s the creator of this True Love Dates Blog, reaching over 4 million people with the message that healthy people make healthy relationships!  Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter or book a session with her today!

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5 Reasons Christian Singles Aren’t Dating

In the last post from #TheDatingScene blog series, I reported that over 53% of singles who took my survey reported that they have not been on one date in the past 6 months. You can read that entire article here.

The majority of Christian Singles are NOT dating.

At the end of that article, I asked singles to tell me why. Why aren’t Christian singles dating? Why has the common date become such a rare thing? The comments rolled in, and some fantastic conversation came of it. As I read through and interacted with the comments, 5 big-picture themes emerged as to why #TheDatingScene is on snooze for most single Christians:

#1 They have unrealistic expectations.

One of the most common things that many singles reported experiencing from the opposite sex is the unrealistic standard of what they’re looking for in a relationship. Men are looking for a cross between Mother Teresa and America’s next top model(click to read more), while women are after the Jesus-loving-Brad-Pitt (click to read more). There’s a false standard that we’ve perpetuated and let’s just put this out there: no one is measuring up.

I believe it’s important to have our standards of character, integrity, and morals when it comes to a dating relationship – but could it be that in the name of “not settling” we’ve confused our PREFERENCES for our NEEDS? Maybe it’s time to prioritize our majors from our minors, and consider pursuing someone that might typically be considered “outside of our usual type”.

Men, Stop Looking for a Super Model Wife.

Women, Please Learn to Settle for the things that DON’T Matter.

#2 They aren’t being asked.

There’s definitely a fear culture surrounding the topic of asking someone out on a date. We’re so paralyzed by fear, failure, and rejection. It’s almost as though we’re so afraid to fail- that we’d rather not even try. In fact, the majority of singles reported that when it comes to dating: they aren’t usually do the asking.

If majority is not asking, that also means majority is not dating.

I think it’s time to exchange our fear for faith, and take the necessary steps to get healthy and then seek out a healthy relationship. If you’re at that point in life, here’s an article I wrote with some basic how-to’s of asking someone out on a date. If you WANT to get to that point, consider taking my 21 Days to JumpStart Your Love Life e-course (more details on that plus a promo code at the bottom of the article).

#3 They’re having a hard time meeting one another.

I think this is a really legitimate concern, and one in which I hope and pray the Church will listen and begin to fill the needs of this generation. Too many churches are not offering a way for their Singles to meet – leaving them to fend for themselves with things like social media, online dating, and everything in between in an attempt to meet. We offer groups for every other category of life, but when it comes to singles – if you’re past college, there’s a good chance you’re out of luck when it comes to finding a group to connect with at your local church.

My hope and prayer is that by having and sharing these conversations, men and women in leadership will realize that the 25+ singles are a truly neglected demographic within the Church – and then do something about it. It’s time to make some noise, approach our leaders, and do our part to build bridges and opportunities for singles to connect. Start a group, initiate a conversation, share your concern, and do what YOU CAN to create a places for singles in the body of Christ to connect. (One place that’s doing this INCREDIBLY well is Saddleback Church – with a Singles Event that I’ll be speaking at coming up this weekend!)

#4 They’ve been taught that women shouldn’t initiate a relationship.

Part of the problem with the lack of interaction among sexes is that woman have been taught that their role is to simply do nothing. They’ve been told the lie that a “woman of God” lets the man initiate, pursue, and make things happen. This leaves women feeling powerless – as though they have no control in their relationship status and no right to take initiative themselves. I’ve been pretty outspoken about how I feel about this subject. If you’ve yet to catch up on those posts, you can give them a read here.

#5 They’re taking dating way too seriously.

Twenty years after the I Kissed Dating Goodbye movement, and we’re finally learning to lighten up about dating. But I believe we still have a long way to go. I’m a firm believer that dating in high school is something that teenagers should do without – the problem is that too many people then take that mentality long into ADULTHOOD.

Christians tend to put the decision of who to date on the same level as the decision of who to marry. There’s so much pressure surrounding the topic, when at the end of the day, a first date is nothing more than getting to know someone better over a cup of coffee. Christians need to stop stressing so much about dating.

I believe that the more we talk about these things, the more we’ll know. And the more we know – the better we’ll do. 

Stay tuned for my entire blog series with the rest of the survey results all about #TheDatingScene

COMMENT BELOW: I want to take this conversation to the churches and ministries I interact with across the country: What is something the CHURCH could do to help encourage healthy dating and interactions between men and women? 

 

A version of this post originally appeared on True Love Dates on August 9, 2017. Used by permission.


True Love Dates, is the book that world-renown #1 New York Times best-selling authors and relationship experts Drs. Les & Leslie Parrot have claimed to be exactly what “your love life needs”.

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Debra Fileta is a Professional Counselor, speaker, and author of True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life21 Days to Jump Start Your Love Life, and 21 Days to Pray For Your Love Life – where she writes candidly about dating, relationships, and how to find true love. You may also recognize her voice from her 150+ articles at Relevant Magazine or Crosswalk.com! She’s also the creator of this True Love Dates Blog!  Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter!

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Hugh Hefner Wrecked My Life… Sort Of

Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy magazine, died last month.

Based on your age, you may or may not be aware of just how significant a cultural figure the man known as “Hef” actually was. . . or perhaps I should more accurately say is. Shortly after his death last evening, his son Cooper stated that his father lived an “exceptional and impactful life as a media and cultural pioneer.” That statement is 100% correct, depending on how you would translate and understand the word “exceptional.” Cooper Hefner also tweeted that his father was a powerful advocate for “free speech, civil rights and sexual freedom.” Consequently, whether you know who Hefner is or not, if you’re a living, breathing, human being who is swimming in the soup of today’s culture and youth culture, Hefner’s ideological DNA exists within the sexual beliefs and behaviors driving our culture and ourselves.

Pornography, or more accurately “sexual immorality”, moved into the modern U.S. mainstream when Hefner published his first edition of Playboy back in 1953. Yes, sexual immorality has been around since Genesis 3:6 in terms of beliefs, desires, and behaviors. Pornography certainly not anything new. But by pulling the curtain back on societal taboos, Hefner was a leading figure in the move to rewrite moral codes. In effect, Hefner may have been the guy standing on top of the mountain, kicking the first rock which has eventually morphed into the growing landslide of the sexual revolution which continues today.

 

Like all things crafted by God and declared as “Good!”, our sexuality is broken. And rather than pursuing redemptive sexuality, Hefner encouraged us to indulge our sexual brokenness as “sexual freedom” without borders or boundaries.

In some ways, Hugh Hefner wrecked my life. I was born just three years after the launch of  Playboy. And just 11 or 12 years into my young life, I joined several friends in taking a first-look at Hefner’s printed monthly. I will never forget it. It was the first time I had seen published pornography. In fact, like most men, the memory is seared into the fabric of my brain. And, like all human beings, my sexual brokenness has existed inside of me in ways that changed on that day just before the dawn of my teenage years.

If I’m honest with myself, it wasn’t Hugh Hefner who made me do it. It was me. And since then, I thank God that a history of sexual indiscretions in thought, word, and deed can be redeemed . . . even though the battle still rages. And, I thank God that His good gift of sexuality can be thought about, exercised, and understood in all its intended glory (by the power of the Holy Spirit) through pursuing sexual integrity to the glory of God and by the grace of God.

While reading this morning about Hefner’s death, I was reminded that several years ago, Hefner purchased the burial vault next to Marilyn Monroe’s. Why? So he could spend eternity with his magazine’s first cover girl. Another one of his crazy ideas, I know. And while we might be tempted to applaud the death of Hugh Hefner as the end to an era, there are some other ways of looking at this.

First, Hefner’s death has not brought an era to an end. The rocks of the sexual revolution landslide are still tumbling. . . picking up speed, volume, and mass.

Second, just as Hefner’s message of “sexual freedom” without borders and boundaries continues to flourish, our role is to preach the Gospel to ourselves and to our kids so that we might continually hear the message of what leads to true sexual flourishing over and above the loud, compelling, and convincing voice of culture. . . that sadly, we are apt to not even question anymore ourselves.

And third, among those of us who see and understand eternity from the perspective of the One who created, called, and redeemed us, there should be no applause over Hugh Hefner’s death. Rather, we should be grieving over his beliefs, his behaviors, and the gods of his heart. We don’t know his heart condition as his earthly story ended, but we do know that his actions and beliefs regarding end-of-life and the after-life were horribly misinformed.

I know it sounds weird, but I’ve spent time pondering Hugh Hefner this morning. . . his impact on my life, my kids, and my culture. It hasn’t been much of a direct influence since that day when I first looked at his magazine, but the influence has been strong. And, I can’t ever self-righteously forget that there, but for the grace of God, go I.

Let’s continue to unapologetically  pursue, live, and speak a message of sexual integrity. 

Life is way too short to not be living God’s grand and glorious design for His good gift of sex and sexuality. I’m guessing Hugh Hefner knows that now.

A version of this article appeared on CPYU’s Blog on September 28th, 2017.


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Dr. Walt Mueller is the founder and president of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding. His organization is always looking for new ways to be salt and light in the culture-at-large. Walt’s the author of eight books and is a sought-after authority on youth culture and family issues.

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